Crackdown 3 review: fun, but extremely flawed

Crackdown 3 is probably not the sequel you were looking for, but it definitely has some thrills...

Your enjoyment of Crackdown 3 will depend on your expectations. If you’re expecting something like the fully-destructible demo Microsoft showcased at E3 five years ago, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, even with the developers’ efforts to salvage that idea in multiplayer.

Crackdown 3’s campaign is not a reason to buy an Xbox One, and nor is this the AAA exclusive smash hit that the console desperately needs. And don’t go into the game expecting a shed-load of Terry Crews, as he’s largely absent after the brief-yet hilarious-opening movie. (He turns out to be not much more than a skin for the player character.) However, if you’ve long wanted a sequel to one of the Xbox 360’s most underrated games, or an excuse to check out Xbox Game Pass, Crackdown 3 delivers an enjoyable if flawed experience.

For those who never played the original Crackdown, it’s an open-world third-person shooter starring a super-powered agent who takes down gang members tormenting a dystopian mega-city. Crackdown set itself apart by giving players access to its entire open-world setting from the start and with its “skills for kills” system. Basically, the more you used your guns, explosives, fists, or driving, the faster you levelled up those skills. Agility, which affects speed and jumping, was levelled up by collecting hundreds of glowing green orbs scattered across the map’s rooftops.

A sequel followed in 2010, which reused the first game’s map and added hordes of mutants to the environment for no particular reason. It’s not fondly remembered, and thankfully, Crackdown 3 almost completely ignores it. For better or worse, Crackdown 3‘s campaign sticks closely to the formula of the first game. The big difference is a new locale, Providence City, and a new enemy, the amoral Terra Nova corporation.

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There are also fewer lieutenants to take out, with only seven bosses leading up to the final showdown. Instead, you spend most of your time chipping away at the defences of Terra Nova’s headquarters, which mostly means destroying its facilities or defeating waves of enemies around the city. Every now and then, these goals get broken up by a “city lockdown” in which waves of enemies are dropped into your location and must be defeated until the lockdown ends. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a lot of variety to the missions, and even the bosses (mostly giant mechs) are pretty similar.

The script also regularly gets pretty juvenile, injecting large amounts of profanity that just sound silly. At times, Crackdown 3 seems like it wants to be Saints Row, but it’s not nearly as clever. That said, it’s great to hear Terry Crews go full President Camacho when he does show up, and Michael D. McConnohie turns in another excellent performance as the Agency Director.

One of the better elements of Crackdown 3 is its verticality, particularly the platforming sections where you climb propaganda towers to deactivate them, though there are far too few of these missions. Still, traversal is one of the real joys you’ll find in the game, even if your travels don’t lead you anywhere interesting.

The locations are a bit monotonous. Providence City is just a big, generic cyberpunk island. And while its neon lights can occasionally look stunning at night, the city is surprisingly empty. When you do run into a character, they display all the animation and personality of a character in a PS2 game. For a game that was at one point going to launch along with the Xbox One X, Crackdown 3 is one of the more disappointing 4K HDR titles on the market.

The soundtrack is another mixed bag. There’s actually very little music in the game. Some synthwave beats do tune in during the more action-packed moments, and they’re great when they’re there, but Crackdown 3 can be a surprisingly quiet game. Worse, the audio would regularly cut out during encounters with lots of enemies.

Keeping these technical issues in mind, this is the part where you’re probably expecting a declaration that Crackdown 3 is an unenjoyable mess, but that’s not quite the case. For all of its flaws and repetitive gameplay, it remains genuinely fun in a legitimate way to destroy an organisation piece by piece. Between guns, fists, explosives and driving, there are enough ways to tackle each objective to keep your interest.

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Don’t be surprised to find yourself staying up way too late, with the temptation to take out just one more monorail station or chemical research facility being just that vital bit more tempting than sleep. And that’s not even mentioning the addictive search for agility and secret orbs. Crackdown 3 is a classic example of a game that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

While the combat can occasionally get too hectic, checkpoints are generous and there’s little penalty for death. Developer Sumo Digital also wisely included a reset button for unfortunate falls during platforming segments. Even when it’s janky, Crackdown 3 is rarely frustrating.

It’s not the longest game, though. The campaign can be completed in under 10 hours, and after 12 hours, all you may have left to do is maxing out your skills and running races around the city. The campaign is only part of the story though, as Crackdown 3 is also shipping with a multiplayer component called “Wrecking Zone.”

At launch, Wrecking Zone is a 5v5 affair with two modes called Agent Hunter and Territories. Essentially, these are just new names for deathmatch and control point. Both modes share just three maps. Microsoft let reviewers try both modes on dedicated servers for a couple hours before launch, and from that time, it’s clear enough that Wrecking Zone is… fine.

The multiplayer emphasises the vertical combat that Crackdown 3 excels at, but porting over the lockdown targeting of the campaign doesn’t really work. It makes for a chaotic game that doesn’t seem to reward skill. It’s also surprisingly limited compared to the campaign, offering only a handful of the same weapons and none of the grenades. While there are several different skins for your agent, there’s no customisation beyond that or even a levelling system.

The entire purpose of Wrecking Zone seems to be to prove that something could be done with the destructible environment tech that was originally promised for the campaign. It’s there, and it’s fun to see buildings collapse in the midst of a firefight, particularly in Territories, but it doesn’t add much to the gameplay, nor does it look particularly impressive compared to what DICE has been doing with its Frostbite engine for years now. Wrecking Zone also comes with a cost to performance. Even on the Xbox One X, the framerate usually struggled to hit 30 FPS in multiplayer, while there were no such issues in the story mode.

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Wrecking Zone is a fun distraction, but like the campaign, it doesn’t break any new ground or look like its going to have any real legs. It’s another element of Crackdown 3 that makes it seem like it’s going to be a divisive game. It often feels like a lost sequel that should have come out 10 years ago, and on a technical level, it is hopelessly outclassed by modern games in the city-defending subgenre such as Marvel’s Spider-Man.

But if you temper your expectations, there’s a surprisingly enjoyable single-player campaign here, and a bonus multiplayer mode that offers a few thrills. As a full-price piece of entertainment, Crackdown 3 is hard to recommend… but as part of the Xbox Game Pass, which you can nab for a reasonably cheap monthly rate, it’s worth checking out.

Score: 3.5/5

Crackdown 3 is out now on Xbox One and PC. And, as it’s a Microsoft title, the game is available at no extra cost to anyone with an Xbox Game Pass